Microsoft to patch PowerPoint zero-day bug on Tuesday

Lone security update will make it easier to also patch Adobe's PDF bug

Microsoft today said it will deliver just one security update next week, a fix for PowerPoint that's probably the patch for a month-old bug that developers admitted they missed during stress testing.

The single update, which will be labeled "critical," Microsoft's highest threat ranking, is a big drop from last month, when the company issued eight updates that patched 23 vulnerabilities.

"Last month, Microsoft closed three of the four known outstanding vulnerabilities, and left us only one in-the-public-domain bug," said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Network Security Inc. The sole unpatched public flaw was the PowerPoint vulnerability Microsoft acknowledged April 2 in a security advisory that warned of ongoing attacks using rigged presentation files.

"The question, is there a pattern here, have they caught up?" asked Storms. "Could we have hit bottom?"

But he immediately dismissed that idea. "Don't think for a minute that I believe that," Storms said. "Microsoft has done a fantastic job of getting people to report [vulnerabilities] only to them, but that doesn't mean there are no other bugs. Frankly, I expected more than just the one."

As is Microsoft's practice, it released only the most general information about the upcoming security patch in the advance notification it posted Thursday. Unlike the April security advisory, however, the early warning today noted that PowerPoint 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2007 will require patching; the advisory had not painted the newest version, PowerPoint 2007, with the bug brush.

Previously, Microsoft had admitted that the bug was in an older PowerPoint file format. The inclusion of PowerPoint 2007, Storms speculated, means that the new version may be affected when it tries to convert from an older format to the Office 2007 native format.

The last time Microsoft issued only one update on a Patch Tuesday was in January, when it fixed flaws in Windows' Server Message Block (SMB) file-sharing protocol. At the time, another security expert, Eric Schultze, the chief technology officer at Shavlik Technologies, called the bugs "super nasty."

"Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to have the PowerPoint patch," said Storms today.

A side benefit of the light Microsoft load is that it will make it easier for users and IT administrators to also deploy the anticipated Adobe Reader and Acrobat security updates. Adobe said last week that it had set May 12, Microsoft's already-scheduled patch day, to release updates for a critical vulnerability in the popular PDF applications.

Storms was critical of Adobe's decision to slate the Reader and Acrobat updates on a day when people will be scrambling to apply Microsoft's fixes. "This makes it quite a bit easier to get the Adobe updates out," Storms said Thursday.

Microsoft will release the one security update at approximately 1 p.m. U.S. ET on May 12.

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